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Commissioners were ‘paid £500 to attend lobbying events’

NHS England has revealed that CCG members have been paid to attend events where they were being lobbied by companies trying to sell products to the NHS.

According to NHS England board papers, an external audit of conflict of interest policies found instances of CCG members ’involved in drugs purchasing decisions for NHS bodies who also hold advisory roles with drugs companies’.

In response, NHS England has published new guidance to CCGs on conflicts management which could mean over two thirds of CCGs will have to make changes to their board line up.

NHS England has been looking into how commissioners handle conflicts of interests partly as a result of the move towards CCGs taking on responsibility for commissioning primary care through ‘co-commissioning’ arrangements.

A National Audit Office report warned last autumn that the move to co-commissioning was putting GPs at risk of conflict of interest accusations.

NHS England’s board today approved plans for a further 51 CCGs to take on full delegated responsibility for commissioning general practice, in addition to an existing 63 – meaning more than half of all CCGs are now responsible for GP contractual arrangements.

Following the audit, NHS England announced a series of measures to limit conflicts of interest, including CCGs appointing at least three lay board members and a conflicts of interest guardia, and publishing publically available registers of gifts and hospitality.

In today’s NHS England board meeting, chair Professor Sir Malcolm Grant said around 30% of CCGs already have three lay board members.

NHS England said it will also ‘toughen up’ its internal conflicts of interest management, ’including more stringent safeguards on the role of interest groups, lobbyists, and commercial organisations in specialised commissioning’.

NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens said: ’In a tax funded health system, the public rightly demand high standards of probity from both NHS staff and health care suppliers.

’Recent cases in the UK and indeed worldwide have underscored the need for action.“Sunshine” rules to bring greater transparency, tougher restrictions on conflicts of interest, and clearer guidelines on industry partnerships and influence will benefit patients and protect taxpayers.’

In today’s board meeting, Professor Grant said the move ’institutionalised the potential of conflicts of interest’ but board members agreed CCG co-commissioning was ‘essential’.